When American Postal Workers Union members agreed to a contract last year that included wage and benefit concessions, they were obviously binding themselves for the life of the agreement with the U.S. Postal Service. Less obvious—at least to FedLine–was that they were also setting the stage for similar givebacks by other postal unions.
That’s a lot clearer now, however, with the award of the three-member arbitration board charged with setting the terms of a new contract between Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association.
The APWU agreement “provided precedent that would have been very difficult to ignore,” wrote Joey Johnson, the board’s NRLCA-appointed member, who partially dissented from the final decision announced yesterday.
Just like the APWU contract, for example, the new agreement for the rural letter carriers includes creation of a two-tier wage system that will pay new career employees more than 10 percent less, according a USPS summary. The deal also means lower wages for new non-career rural carrier associates to the tune of more than 20 percent, the summary says. Rural letter carriers will also shoulder an increasing share of the cost of their health insurance premiums, exactly along the lines of the APWU contract.
It could have been worse, of course. The Postal Service apparently wanted deeper concessions than those agreed to by the APWU on the grounds that its financial condition had deteriorated since last year. That line of argument didn’t persuade the arbitration board’s chair, Jack Clarke. The big problem, Clarke wrote, is Congress’ failure “to address the overall mission and financing of the Service in a time of deteriorating mail volumes and reduced public demand for hard-copy postal services.”
The new contract does contain modest wage and cost-of-living adjustments. It also suggests what’s ahead for members of the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, the other two postal unions whose contracts expired last November. Following the failure of negotiations with the Postal Service, both are proceeding with binding arbitration.